They say that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. This is hardly rocket science, and yet it’s a concept a lot of exercisers either forget or ignore. It doesn’t matter how strong your legs, back or biceps are. if you have a weak grip your performance will suffer. After all, it’s your hands that connect you to whatever you are lifting.
Yes, you COULD use lifting straps to enhance your grip, but that merely addresses the symptom and not the cause of your problem. And what if you need to lift something away from the gym? Where are your lifting straps when you need them!?
Grip training can have a massive impact on how well you can do exercises like pull-ups and deadlifts. Increasing your performance in these exercises will have a significant knock-on effect to the rest of your body. Also, big Popeye-esque forearms look very cool.
Here are five of the best exercises for building an iron grip.
1. Deadlift Holds
This exercise is as simple as it is brutal. Load up a barbell with plenty of weight and, without rounding your lower back, deadlift it off the deck. Use a double overhand grip and not a stronger mixed grip. Without leaning back, grip and hold the bar for as long as you can. Squeeze the bar like your life depends on it. Put the bar down before you grip gives out.
Pro tip: Use chalk to enhance your grip. It soaks up sweat and prevents your hands from slipping. Save your energy by setting the bar on knee-high blocks, so you don’t have to deadlift it from the floor each time. This may allow you to use more weight than usual.
2. Farmer’s Walk
The farmer’s walk exercise is a classic test and developer of strength. It’s also a great way to build your grip. Because it’s a dynamic exercise, it challenges your grip in a whole new way. It’s an especially good exercise for soldiers, firefighters, and anyone else who has to lift and carry heavy loads.
Place two dumbbells on the floor and stand between them. Deadlift them from the floor and hold them down by your sides. Gripping them tightly, walk around your training area until you feel your grip is starting to fail. Set them down, rests a moment, and repeat.
Pro tip: Use one dumbbell to turn this excellent grip exercise into a tough core exercise. Use obliques and abs to keep your torso perfectly upright. Try carrying a barbell or sandbags to increase the demand on your hands.
3. Plate Pinches
Most grip exercises tend to emphasize the big forearm muscles. That makes a lot of sense as they are the most dominant grip muscles. However, finger strength is also essential and should not be neglected.
Place two weight plates back-to-back and stand them on their edges. Start with five pounders. Squeeze the plates together using your fingers and thumb. Increase the pressure and lift the plates up. Hold them for as long as you can, squeezing as hard as possible. Do not hold the plates over your toes as, with this exercise, your grip may fail without much warning.
Pro tip: Instead of remaining stationary, walk around your training area to turn this exercise into a variation of the farmer’s walk. Use plates with smooth sides so that you have to work harder to keep them together.
4. Towel Grip Chin-Ups
Chin-ups are a popular and effective back exercise. They also give your biceps a great workout. However, even though you have to hold the bar securely, they are not a great exercise for building your grip. That all changes with towel chin-ups. This exercise variation is very challenging and is an effective way to build an iron grip.
Stand below your chin-up bar. Loop two towels over the bar so that the ends hang down. The towels should be about shoulder-width apart. Grip the ends of the towels together – one pair of ends in each hand. With your grip set, start pumping out the pull-ups. Don’t worry if you can’t do as many reps as usual. Treat this as a grip exercise rather than a back exercise.
Pro tip: If you cannot do pull-ups, do towel grip dead-hangs instead. Grip the towels as described above and then hang with your arms straight and your feet clear of the floor.
5. Reverse fat bar curls
Large diameter bars are much harder to grip than small diameter bars. Because you can’t wrap your fingers around the bar, you lose the advantage of friction. With less friction, your grip won’t be as strong.
Many gyms have fat bars, or you can use clip-on grips that temporarily increase the diameter of the bar you are using. Reverse grip fat bar curls are good for forearm and biceps strength and also an effective way to build your grip.
To do it, lift and hold your barbell with an overhand, palms-down grip. Place your thumbs on top of the bar next to your fingers to weaken your grip and make the exercise much more challenging. With your elbows tucked in close to your sides, bend your arms and curl the bar up to your shoulders. Lower the bar back down and repeat. Keep your wrists straight or, even better, flex your wrists slightly upward. Do not let them bend downward.
Pro-tip: If you don’t have fat bars or clip-on grips, wrap a towel around your bar to make it thicker and harder to grip.
How to train for a stronger grip
If you are serious about developing a stronger grip, you need to treat grip training seriously! A couple of sets of wrist curls or plate pinches at the end of your regular workout will not have much of an effect. Instead, treat your forearms and grip like any other muscle group – do several exercises a couple of times a week, using a variety of loads, sets, and rep schemes.
- Deadlift holds 4 sets of max time
- Towel chin-ups 3 sets of 3-5 reps
- Reverse fat bar curls 2 sets of 10-12 reps
- Farmers walk 4 sets of 15-20 meters
- Plate pinches 3 sets of max time
- Towel grip dead hangs 2 sets of max time
If you are new to grip training, you should soon start to see your hand strength improving. Once your grip is no longer your weak link, you should be able to maintain it with regular deadlifts and other indirect forearm exercises.